By Sam Rose,
ON Monday 23 September, the country woke up to the news that Thomas Cook, the UK's oldest travel company, had collapsed - leaving 150,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad and putting 21,000 jobs at risk worldwide.
The following 24 hours saw other companies within the industry rallying around, with airline operators working to repatriate holiday makers and easyJet, TUI and Virgin opening up jobs to former Thomas Cook staff. Even companies outside of the industry got involved in commiserating staff and customers and doing what they could to help. Virgin Trains offered flexible travel on booked tickets so that people could travel home at the time they needed to should their plans have changed, while other businesses offered free CV advice, theatre tickets, creche sessions, haircuts, sports coaching and other services. It was good to see the power of social media being used to spread the word about the industry, community and businesses pulling together to give any help they could at a difficult time for all involved.
However, if you're going to wade into a situation like this as a business, anything you do that could be seen as marketing needs to be handled delicately. In this case, while opening up job opportunities to unemployed staff would likely be approved of, careful thought needed to go into any messaging aimed at customers looking to rebook their holidays. For example, Virgin Holidays went with a sympathetic tweet: "We're sorry to hear that Thomas Cook has ceased trading, and the impact this will have on staff and holidaymakers. If you have booked a Thomas Cook holiday and wish to discuss rebooking options, our Virgin Holidays team is ready to help."
But an email sent out by another firm was not so well-received, with the headline "Discover package holidays you can trust" landing in inboxes hours after the firm collapsed. Many recipients took to social media unimpressed with the obvious jibe at the company's former competitor.
Several companies also came under fire when holiday and flight prices trebled in some cases, with travel companies accused of profiteering. Whether prices were deliberately increased or a website algorithm meant the prices went up automatically due to demand, the outcome was the same - customers were angered by businesses that were seen as trying to make money from their competitor's misfortune, while businesses that appeared sympathetic and tried to help Thomas Cook staff and customers were looked upon more favourably. It's an important lesson on the importance of tone, subtlety and generosity of spirit when engaging in reactive marketing.
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